Panisokori : Burden of fear and beliefs
Prantik Deka, a renowned film critic, writes about Arindam Barooah's film debut, 'Panisokori'.
Arindam Barooah has been actively engaged in making a number of short films that have been recognised in numerous film festivals in India and abroad. He remains one of the handful of filmmakers committed to exploring the possibilities of a short film. Having gained a lot of experience honing his skills and grasping his craft in short films for quite some time now, he has now ventured into feature films.
It was the experience and the observations that he made during one of his visits to a family in a remote place called Rohmoriya in Dibrugarh, inhabited predominantly by the indigenous Matak community that struck him as a good idea for a movie. Interestingly, the community as a whole is strongly driven by superstitious beliefs, which has engendered an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Barooah was also moved by a story dealing with a sensitive issue called Bhogowanor Xomadhi (God's Grave), written by Kshipra Kalpa Gogoi, which he felt was ripe with visual possibilities.
Image: Film still
Barooah's much-anticipated debut film 'Panisokori' (in the swirls) is a slow-paced yet moving tale of a poor family belonging to the Matak community in rural Assam that unwittingly falls prey to a web of superstitious beliefs.
A good portion of the rural society, which is already neck deep in problems, are still sunk in superstition. Today, despite technological advances, superstition remains rife in Assam and elsewhere in the country.
'Panisokori' follows the futile monotonous life of Ratiram, a daily wage earner, struggling hard to scrape a living for himself and his family. Plagued by financial hardships and irregular nature of work, the family is shackled by the web of superstition that hangs everywhere, making them vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by unscrupulous people.
Image: Film still
Trapped in a cycle of poverty and weighed down by debt, with a wife to care for, a sick son to treat and console, and a young daughter to support, Ratiram must work tirelessly to make ends meet, or else his children will have to drop out of school and his daughter will be compelled to work as a servant in other people's homes in order to redeem her family's debts.
Barooah has deployed realistic elements, reminiscent of the Italian Neorealist films of the past, to capture the plight of the poor grappling with the issue of superstition in 'Panisokori'.
The film is tinged with a cool grainy drab and grayish-blue palette to create a sense of gloom and dreariness, which reflects the characters' lives. And Ratiram's broken bicycle, which is very close to his heart, serves as a parallel to their collective situation. Just like the bicycle, the family, old and worn out, hold on to each other, through thick and thin, and refuse to give up. And there is no substitute for the family.
The use of non-actors in film can sometimes be a gamble, but it can also lead to some very authentic performances. The non-actors in the film are not portraying any different characters but playing real people living their lives. Furthermore, it made sense to use the language they were comfortable with as they were not trained or experienced actors. It has also helped to create a more realistic and authentic feel for the film.
As has been the case with Arindam's short films, 'Panisokori's slow pace treatment works to its advantage, as it allows the audience moments of reflection to stay with the state of mind of the characters and their emotion on the screen. Ultimately, it's the unhurried nature of the story that makes the ending all the more shocking and impactful.
Image: Director Arindam Barooah with DOP
'Panisokori' is a poignant reminder of the harsh realities of life in rural India, where superstition often takes precedence in the absence of hope and opportunity. Arindam Barooah's film is a realistic effort to portray the rural landscape with its sensitive exploration of poverty.
Produced under the banner of Panchoi Productions, 'Panisokori's editing has also been done by Arindom Barooah. The screenplay has been written by Rita Bhuyan Barooah, Indranil Gayan and Arindam Barooah. Interestingly, the film is also devoid of any music, which has allowed viewers to focus entirely on the interactions between the characters. While the film's cinematography has been handled by Aantarik Borbora, the additional camera crew members include Rishika Baruah, Bhaskar Jyoti Dutta and Shantanu Tamuli. The film's chief assistant director is Gaurav Haloi, while Rukmajit Baruah is the production sound mixer, the film's colourist is Debabrot Phukan, and the sound has been designed by Rinku Boro.
The various roles are enacted by Bimol Chetia, Dipamoni Chetia, Minakhi Chetia, Dimpol Baruah, Pronamika Chetia, Binod Baruah, Kumila Gandhia, Amoia Baruah, etc.